Jonathan Gabb

I interviewed Jonathan Gabb, winner of the WW SOLO AWARD, for Jotta. It was one of the most illuminating interviews I have ever done, as there is far more at work conceptually in Gabb’s installations than is immediately evident.

Jonathan Gabb has been announced as the winner of the WW Gallery’s inaugural SOLO award.  Jonathan Gabb will receive the prize money of £1000, a three month residency in which he hopes to create site-specific works inspired by the natural light of the gallery (something he has been deprived of in his own studio), and a solo show in January 2013.

There is more to Gabb’s installations than first pleases the eye; it isn’t instantly obvious that these showers of colour take inspiration from the decorative elements of Art Nouveau or are working to achieve an effect similar to Baroque and Rococo architectural adornments. Gabb describes his work as “playing with reality”, admitting that his influences are as diverse Wayne Thiebaud’s Refrigerator Pies, where paint comes to resemble frosting on a cake, and Damien Hirst’s abstract yet arbitrary spot paintings. In a world filled with a persistent realism, Gabb’s work reminds us of the transformative power of pure materials.

You have developed a very particular method of working with paint as though it is an object, how did you begin working in this way?

I was introduced to this technique whilst on a life painting course, a PVA glue medium was mixed in with acrylic paint so that it appeared more translucent.  Later on during my degree course I became interested in the act of painting and wanted to investigate the medium further.  I loved how acrylic paint could maintain its plastic quality when the PVA glue was added and so I continued to experiment. I was interested in exploring how I could make reference to the act of painting in the works. By making sheets and cutting them into threads I was able to create forms which allude to drips and sweeping paint strokes.

It is not necessarily obvious what exactly you are doing with paint just by looking, are you interested in confusing the viewer?  

It’s more about confounding the expectations of the viewer. With a painting, people expect paint on a canvas or pigment in liquid on a flat surface, I’m trying to do something different. I want to stretch the material value of paint in a 3D form in a way which transforms it into something else – the paint is freed from a fixed surface and can be viewed as an object.

Audiences have a greater understanding about art now and I want to show something that not only has a lot of thought put into it, but which is also enjoyable to look at. I think there is something very authoritative about the traditional method of painting, and I think that ties in with people’s expectations. With these works people engage with the material nature of the medium, more than the colour, in a way in which they usually wouldn’t with traditional painting.

What effect does working in this way achieve which most interests you?

I enjoy the optical element of the work; viewing the work becomes more of an event. The viewer can move around the work; from a side angle it might resemble a pen and ink drawing, then it merges into denser three dimensional forms at another point. The viewer is encouraged to engage physically with the work.  During my residency at WW I’d like to explore how I can create work which responds to the nature of the space and how the viewer will interact with the installations as they move through the gallery.

Are there particular colours or forms which you find most effective when you are making your installations, or are other elements the driving forces behind your work?

My selection of colour in my more recent work has been consciously arbitrary.  I like the idea of treating the raw material of the paint itself as a readymade, so I select the colours automatically.  However I have enjoyed combining vibrant colour with the dramatic swirling forms of ‘baroque’ style compositions.

I also love the idea of celebrating the notion of abstract art as an ornament or decoration.  The abstract expressionist paintings of the 1950s were meant to be the height of modernism, yet at the same time they decorated the minimalist architecture in the way an ornament would, despite being a contradiction to the ethos of the time.  So these works adhere to the ceilings and walls in an unself-conscious way – like the adornments of rococo and baroque architecture.

You can also read the catalogue for the WW SOLO AWARD group show online here:  This is my first foray into editing and I put all of the texts together.


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